Saturday, April 2, 2011


I sprained my arm on Sunday (it's almost well now) so I had to go to the doctor this week. As part of her examination, Dr. Julie asked me what I do for a living. Tech writing. "Do you write on a computer or a typewriter?"

Seriously. She meant that as a real question, I know because I double checked. It was weird because just the weekend before I had shown a friend the writing process I use, which involves an IDE, a specialized kind of XML, some HTML, a content management tool, a source control system, a Java archive file, some bug-tracking software, an editor in India whose time zone I need to coordinate with, and two different review sites. The outputs I produce are for websites you can view on mobile devices. Nowhere in any of this is paper, or even anything resembling paper. And I'm pretty sure they don't make typewriters anymore.

But for one lovely black-and-white film noir moment, I pictured myself stacking a neatly-typed manuscript on my desk, then just reapplying my lipstick before ringing for the messenger boy to deliver my latest pages to editing. (Which is downstairs, not in India.) I have no idea what instructions I would write (I only know how to write about software) but I do know the whole scenario involves me living in New York City, where some sort of thrilling crime is about to occur.

Anyway. I'm supposed to be writing a paper, my last before graduating, right now. I'm also supposed to be reading Pale Fire, the book that makes me truly understand all the ways in which I dislike Vladimir Nabokov.  But whatever, I'm not.

Something I've wanted to write about all year is the incredible beauty of the Bay Bridge that's being built. I drive past it ten times a week, half of those at night, and each time it takes my breath away. There was a newscast that my friend Wendy hates in which a warning was issued, "The new bridge is being erected and drivers are cautioned that it will be very beautiful, so do not look." Wendy thinks drivers that are too stupid to keep their eyes on the road deserve exactly what they get, but I adore this warning.

At 10 o'clock at night, when the streets are relatively empty and lately, rain slicked, and I'm tired because I've been up since 6:00 AM, first at work and then at school, the approach to the gorgeously lit, super-saturated white first column is nothing short of inspiring. A work of art dangerous in its beauty.

Okay, now I need to go write a paper in order to graduate. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

indecent exposure

I haven't blogged since the Napa Valley conference listed all our blogs for each other and since the guys at work showed me how easy I am to cyberstalk. So tonight is the first time I ever viewed my traffic stats (Yep, yep, two readers. If you include that Bollywood guy who is hoping I'll reveal some new screenplay plot even though I had to heavily redact the last one.)

The traffic stats make me sad. Apparently, people Google "inventions" and get dumped into my inventions I want invented post. I have seriously let those (18) people down. And the other six are Googling shiny new australia and come up hands empty with me. I feel like I've reached into their hearts, ripped out seven and a half minutes worth of heartbeats, and yelled, "You'll never get this time back, loser!"

The solution is to take my blog off search, but nobody I know has bookmarked it. Come to think of it, no one I know can remember its name either, so search is useless here. Which leads me to the realization that without the geeks I have no one.

How can this not have occurred to me until now?


Forget that in the past month I've started classes, aced the GRE (um, well, verbal, not math), painted my living room, written an acclaimed (only by my T.A. but whatever) short story, gathered four job recommendations, and finished my application to Hedgebrook. Biggest all-time unemployment achievement: I'm now an approved commenter on Gawker.

Here is the story of my struggle.

At first I didn't know you had to audition to comment on Gawker, so I wrote kind of a stupid comment about oleanders being poisonous. Oh, how I cringe thinking about it. (It was meant to be funny but the story is too long and involved.) After that initial humiliation, I didn't comment for a very long time. And in fact, I've blocked out my second failed attempt so I can't even recount it here.

But my third. My third was a piece of genius. For an article about how a New Republic editor said that he wasn't sure Muslim-Americans deserved the privilege of free speech, I wrote, "How many Muslim-Americans can name all ten amendments in the Bill of Privileges?" That's like the best joke I'll ever make -- which should indicate to you that you need to begin smoking a lot of weed in my presence if you haven't started already.

Anyway, they despised my third attempt. They didn't even respond. (Hey, it occurs to me that now that I'm approved I could sneak back and post it just out of spite. Coolness.)

I wasn't going to make a fourth attempt. I planned to always remind myself that I could never transcend my bill of privileges moment so I should never waste time trying. But then they posted an article about school anxiety and, well, er, I've been pretty emotional what with all this statement of purpose crap I have to do for grad school apps, so before I knew it I was pouring out my heart to the overworked hipster editors at Gawker.

And they liked me! They really liked me! They didn't roll their eyes or anything (or maybe they did because sometimes they post stuff sardonically just to rile people up, but I'm so happy I don't even care). Three separate people replied nice things to me. It's not necessary to point out that probably hundreds  were too polite to tell me they hated me and thousands more were too bored to register any emotion about me whatsoever. Three people were nice!

Which means: I now have a lifetime-until/unless-banned approval to comment on Gawker. It's like living in Brooklyn! It's like wearing baby bangs and red lipstick while going to parties in Brooklyn. Really, it's exactly like that, annoying and obnoxious in just the same way. Reality check: I'm nowhere near approved to write for Gawker. I'm only allowed to comment on Gawker, which really should be a right guaranteed to all Americans.

But whatever! Tonight I wanted to post about Mr. Snuffleupagus and I did, without anybody's permission. Tomorrow, if I feel like writing about my Obama sex fantasies, I will. Someday I might even go off topic, dare to dream.

The real lesson in all of this is that acceptance came only after I allowed my true self to be known. That or else they thought my true self might inspire enough snarky comments to be entertaining.

Or maybe the real lesson is that I need to spend more time looking for a job.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


I was accepted to the Napa Valley Writer's Conference this summer, and I'm embarrassingly happy about it.

Possibly because it took almost five solid writing classes at SFSU for it to dawn on me that we aren't graded on our writing. This, even though one of my close friends teaches writing at Cal and regularly re-explains CW grading to me.

Basically, for reasons I was about to delineate before it occurred to me mid-sentence that I still don't understand, students are pretty much graded on their ability to come to class, occasionally say something if they aren't too shy, complete assignments on time, and loosely follow instructions. ( Following "instructions" never requires the proper use of punctuation, any basic understanding of grammar, or text formatted in a readable font size or color. Oh, and it's totally okay to use words you don't know without looking them up first.)

All that is pretty discouraging. Apparently, you can get straight A's in writing classes and still graduate, dangling modifiers and mixed metaphors and all. So being accepted to a workshop solely on the basis of a short story I wrote (and, you know, that whole fee payment thing) is way incredible -- it feels like an actual achievement, not just like managing to show up. I've never sent out any fiction before -- and while being allowed to workshop a story is a long, long way from being allowed to publish a story, it's a giant step for me.

When I told my mom, she said, "A book publisher tells a writer, "We love every word of your story." The writer is thrilled. Then the publisher says, "Could you just put them in a different order for us?"

Monday, March 22, 2010

cyberstalking hyperhooping

I haven't posted since not one but two guys at my job bragged to me about how quickly and effortlessly they had cyberstalked me. One pretended it was a coincidence. He apparently happened to be reading a book that was a compilation of letters to Ask Cecil, when he came across my tirade about dual citizenship laws. Don't get me started on dual citizenship; I become eerily emotional.

But anyway, it's hard not to blog. There are so many crazy things happening in the world inviting comment. Like! One of my cyberstalking friends taught me to hula hoop last week! (I realize that I should've already known how, but my memory of hooping is that you can maybe balance 3 or 5 times, but after that it slinks to the ground. Unless you're married to the president, of course, and then you can casually hoop 23 times in a row while doing an interview about the presidential fitness council and wearing a matching spring sweater set.

So when Sam threatened to bring his hoop to work, I knew that I needed to at least try to be like Michelle Obama, even if I never regained my dignity after the attempt. Neither Sam nor I have parking permits this quarter, so our cars were tucked neatly away on a quiet side street away from the prying eyes of our coworkers (although I suspect he may have secretly taped the whole thing).

Sam brought a giant-sized heavy-duty hoop out of his trunk, that he claimed he made himself at a hoop-making party. (I never get invited to stuff like that.) It was made from some special plastic piping, soldering was involved, and I had to listen to a discourse on the friction coefficients of different types of duct type. There were no beads swirling around inside the hoop, which I considered a major design flaw.

Sam disagrees, but his credibility was lost sometime around when he started setting hoops on fire and then hooping with them until the flames died down. Anyway, his tricked-out hoop was a little intimidating. I worked really hard to keep it aloft and was, to my astonishment, actually doing it, despite that Sam seemed to be laughing about something -- maybe a friend had just texted him a joke? After I stopped he told me, "You can stand in one place. You don't have to walk around while you're hooping."

After that, we discussed the exact knee motion (ovals, mostly front to back) and I resumed operation loss of dignity. I was much better this time -- hey, hardly any motion is required! I suddenly saw how people could do this "indefinitely." And I saw how I could be one of those people, which really made up for the whole swirly bead disappointment.

I mean, imagine my new life. I'd move to Washington, D.C. I'd stand outside the White House. I'd have my whole sweater set picked out. And then all I'd need to do is start hooping. Before very long, Obama would come out, tell me (without naming names) how much better I hoop than anyone he knows, and then, because I'm so easy to cyberstalk, he'll mention that he read my letter in Savage Love (but hopefully not the one in Ask Cecil) and summarily divorce his wife and embark on a lifetime of optimal friction coefficients with me.

It's that simple, people! Knees in an oval motion!

Friday, February 19, 2010

japanese schoolgirl

Last night I popped over to the neighbor's apartment mostly to check out their decorating scheme. (I saw Colin's bachelor pad back in the day; now I had to see which direction Eleanor's design sensibilities had taken his new apartment.) They had a houseguest there from Japan and we ended up having what I now consider one of the greatest conversations of my life.

After spending quite some time listening to Pica's travel plans to visit the Peru, the New Orleans, and the Carmel, I had to put a stop to her definite article abuse. This led to an interesting discussion comparing Japanese and English grammar, in the midst of which I remembered that I don't speak Japanese. This is how much of a nerd I am: even though I don't know the language, I'm familiar with the grammar. In fact, I'm a highly-trained speaker of pseudo-Japanese (which basically means I know that I'm supposed to introduce the subject before the verb as in, "About that cookie. Are you going to eat it?) I even used to know the Japanese word for "about" although I've forgotten it now.

It turned out that Pica is in a band and that she's opened for Shonen Knife. (My favorite Japanese band by virtue of being the only Japanese band I know of.) Pica met Eleanor when Eleanor went to Japan to do a documentary on her band. The director of the film quit so it was never finished, but Eleanor still has a lot of raw footage on VHS that Pica has never seen. Which prompted Eleanor to ask,

"Do you have a VCR?"
I said, "Yeah, sure, you have a key to my place so just come over and watch it tomorrow while I'm at work."
She no sooner thanked me than Pica asked,
"Oh, and do you have a schoolgirl outfit?"

You know how, when something unexpected happens, you have several thousand thoughts simultaneously? Here are some of mine:

1. Of course. It's totally natural that a Japanese rock star would ask that.
2. What is it about videotape that makes people immediately associate it with schoolgirl outfits?
3. I should have a schoolgirl outfit! It's like a little black dress -- every woman should own one.
4. Wait. My roommate does own one.
5. How do I know that about my roommate?
6. Is Pica going to wear it or does she want me to wear it?
7. There's gotta be a reasonable explanation.

The best thing about people who barely speak English is that they say everything in this totally deadpan way. Pica had already made me cry tears of laughter by describing her Peruvian toothache, her nude modeling job ("No moving! I spent three years not moving!"), and the various incarnations of Shonen Knife. The schoolgirl outfit explanation promised to be good.

It was actually pretty simple, albeit strange. Pica didn't go to her high school graduation ceremony, so Eleanor and Colin are going to recreate the ceremony here. Pica thought it would be a good idea to get an authentic schoolgirl outfit for the occasion. I told her I could hook her up with a pleated skirt.

The thing is, when I got home Christina was still out somewhere so I had to leave her a note. And the note had to explain "for a joke, not for sex." When I woke up this morning there was a microscopic plaid skirt, complete with a shoebox of patent leather mary jane platforms, on the dining room table. I loved the gratuitous shoes more than anything.

But when I came home from work, the outfit was still there. I took it down to Pica's house to give to her. She looked puzzled and said, "That is a schoolgirl outfit here?" Then it hit me that Japanese schoolgirls wear navy we-were-conquered-in-WWII blue, not Catholic plaid. That's why she didn't take the outfit earlier -- she didn't recognize it as a school uniform. I reassured her that it was and she seemed okay with it even though it probably screwed up, like, only the biggest day of her life.

Walking home, I pieced together some more parts of the story. In Japanese Pica was probably thinking, "school uniform" but in English that got translated to "schoolgirl outfit" without her being aware of the shift in connotation. Which is why she could ask me for one without any hesitation. And since everyone in Japan wears school uniforms, she probably thought most people would have an old uniform lying around. Which is why she assumed I'd have one.

So in the end it all makes incredibly non-sexual sense. And I'm not even going to attempt to make grammatical sense of all my other simultaneous thoughts and feelings.

Monday, December 28, 2009

secret agent

There's a whole backstory about how one of Sequoia's littermates was adopted by a family who lived a few blocks from me and that's how I met Rachel and Alice, the teenage girls who keep me au courant on teen idols, media trends, and high school (mis)interpretations of literary classics. I met Rachel when she was 12, but fast foward: now she's applying to colleges.

And today her mom told me that she wrote about me in her application essays. And I know what you're thinking, but no! It was not part of some cautionary tale.

Her essay began, "Since I was a little kid, I wanted to grow up to be a secret agent. Everyone laughed at me, except for [insert my full name here, which I don't want to include even though it appears in the sidebar -- I have my reasons]." Then she went on to say how I sent her links to CIA and Secret Service websites that had information about internships and degree requirements. And that's how she decided to learn three foreign languages during high school (yes, she's amazing) and then apply to major in International Studies.

I don't know which makes me happiest: the fact that I encouraged someone to pursue her dream and now she really is pursuing it, or the fact that the dream I encouraged is so zany. I mean, I totally love that it felt completely normal to me to figure out how a 12-year old girl could become a secret agent. I was curious. It never occurred to me (until I heard her mom say the words "secret agent" aloud) that anyone would laugh at that choice of profession. But when I hear it told back to me, it's hilarious. It's exactly the kind of nutty thing that I (insert full name here) would encourage.

But whatever, it absolutely makes sense. It's a real job that people do and she is the perfect candidate (smart, athletic, ambitious) for work like that. If you don't count blowing your cover on your college application essays at age 17 (and providing counterspies with the full name of who to kidnap and torture and kill when the torture thing doesn't make her talk), she's going to be an outstanding "clandestine service core collector," a job title that only the CIA could dream up and one that rivals "secret agent" for its sheer entertainment value.

Of course, all this means that eventually I'll be responsible for whatever horrific spy fate that may befall her, but for now I feel pretty much like George Baily in It's a Wonderful Life.